We’re now just a few weeks away from the start of training camp, and there are still 14 restricted free agents without contracts. Many of those who remain unsigned are key players for their teams, and starting training camp without them isn’t a desired situation for either side. That means early September should be filled with new contracts, including several that should be quite substantial.
The full list of unsigned RFAs, thanks to CapFriendly:
Nick Ritchie (ANA)
Marek Langhamer (ARZ)
Sam Reinhart (BUF)
Noah Hanifin (CGY)
Matt Puempel (DET)
Darnell Nurse (EDM)
Michael McCarron (MTL)
Miles Wood (NJD)
Jordan Schmaltz (STL)
William Nylander (TOR)
Shea Theodore (VGK)
Eric Comrie (WPG)
J.C. Lipon (WPG)
Josh Morrissey (WPG)
As CapFriendly points out, there is still technically a possibility of an offer sheet for these players given their status as restricted free agents but it seems extremely unlikely at this point. Offer sheets are so rarely used in today’s NHL and would require a team to have ample cap space this late in the summer. Remember too that an offer sheet is not something a team can do without the player’s consent, and none of these situations seem contentious currently.
Instead, these contracts are taking a long time because they have real impact on their team’s cap situations going forward. William Nylander wants a long-term deal from the Toronto Maple Leafs, but with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Jake Gardiner and others needing new contracts within the next year there are plenty of reasons to think a bridge deal could be more beneficial. Nylander’s cap hit is extremely important for the Maple Leafs going forward, and given that it will likely fall somewhere around Dylan Larkin’s $6.1MM and David Pastrnak’s $6.67MM it takes time to work out.
For a team like Edmonton, locking up Darnell Nurse provides perhaps even more challenges. The team needs Nurse desperately this season given their already ailing blue line, but also has to worry about how they’ll add to the team down the line if they buy out any of his free agent years. That would send his cap hit skyrocketing, and the team has just $3.9MM left for this season and more than $62MM already committed for 2019-20. A bridge deal in Edmonton might be the only possible contract, but it might not be what Nurse is looking for.
The same could be said in Calgary, where the Flames can’t be exactly sure what they have in Noah Hanifin. While he has a high draft pedigree and has been a fine player in Carolina through the early part of his career, there’s no indication yet that he can be a franchise defenseman capable of leading their blue line down the road. With many of their other defensemen closing in on unrestricted free agency and the back half of their careers, the Flames have to be careful where they commit the most dollars.
Overall, this is a very talented group that is still unsigned as we inch closer to September and should make for some fireworks just before camp. In the worst case scenario some of them will miss camp and perhaps even hold out into the season, at which point we’ll be looking at a December 1st deadline instead of mid-September. That’s when every RFA needs a contract by or else they forfeit the entire 2018-19 season.